New school on the block

New school on the block

Computer-based learning will help keep tuition affordable

The new school will be housed at the East Brunswick Jewish Center. photos courtesy pclc

Amid a turbulent economy, an increasing number of day-school parents are suffering sleepless nights wondering how to scrape up enough money to cover tuition fees of $15,000 or more per child. Some parents are even opting out of day schools altogether.

Lauren Ariev Gellman understands their predicament. As the mother of three elementary-school-aged children, she was often frustrated by the high cost of her children’s day school and the relatively mediocre education it offered.

Instead of complaining, Gellman, of Highland Park, sought a solution. Her response to the “yeshiva tuition crisis” is the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center of New Jersey for eighth through 12th-graders, which will open at the East Brunswick Jewish Center in September.

The nondenominational Jewish school will offer a full curriculum of general and Judaic studies, including many self-paced individual-learning opportunities. The annual tuition, in contrast to many area Jewish high schools that cost upward of $20,000, will be $5,000.

“We wanted to do something to save Jewish education,” said Gellman. The center’s aim is to offer a high-quality Jewish and secular education at a more affordable price than the typical Jewish high school, she said.

Gellman, who will serve as the school’s director, worked as a book publishing executive and was a founder of Yeshivat Netivot Montessori, an Orthodox Jewish Montessori school in Edison. Her husband, Peter Gellman, a Princeton professor turned investment manager, is on PCLC’s board of directors.

The school will keep tuition low by spending less on staff than other private schools, according to Lauren Gellman. Although many of the classes will take place with onsite faculty, students will also access computer-based instructional material and their progress will be monitored online. Teachers will be there to assist students and maintain decorum, but much of the work will be done at students’ own pace, she said.

Lauren Ariev Gellman will serve as director of the new school.

Because of the structure of the school, no tracking of classes is necessary, she said, adding, “This model works for students of various learning styles and abilities. It can be customized to each student’s interest and needs.”

The Jewish studies program will combine traditional classroom learning with Beit Midrash learning. Students who require more advanced Judaic studies will have the option of working with a remote instructor via Skype.

Students will be required to attend morning minyan at the synagogue of their choice so that they can pray in an atmosphere they find meaningful, said Gellman.

Thus far, approximately 20 students have signed up from the Central New Jersey region, but Gellman has been fielding calls from parents throughout the state as word has spread about the new center. She anticipates reaching a 150-student enrollment from a 40-mile radius of the school within five years.

Rachel Lendner, a Teaneck mother of two who is considering sending her eighth-graderson to PCLC, credited Gellman for finding “creative ways to make Jewish education affordable.”

“All of the Jewish high schools are prohibitively expensive to the point that, until I heard about the PCLC, public high school was a given. The tuition here is much more manageable,” said Lendner.

But she wasn’t just drawn by the low price, she said. The school’s unique curriculum also appealed to her. “The organizers of the school meet with each family to individually tailor a schedule and curriculum for each child. I am hoping that this will allow both parents and children to create a learning environment suitable for each child and family, both religiously and academically.”

School officials hope that PCLC will serve as a model for other communities across the country seeking to reduce the costs of Jewish education.

The school has already received positive attention from at least one national source: The Avi Chai Foundation has awarded the program a $50,000 grant and may contribute more funding after the center opens.

Aly Mandel, a child psychologist who is working as a consultant for the school and serves on the board of directors, called the learning center “revolutionary.”

“The way the school is structured, they are able to keep the cost low and the quality of education superior,” she said. Of the school’s blending of technology with classroom seminars, she said, “They are onto something that will be the wave of the future.”

And as the mother of five children in day school who thought it would be “untenable” to send them all to a Jewish high school, she is thrilled. “This will enable many Jewish children to continue their Jewish education in an economy that might otherwise be impossible,” she said.

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